Psychology and human behaviour for the critical thinking designer
I seem to remember that popular physics books crowded the shelves of major bookstores about 10 years ago. Now it’s cognitive and behavioural psychology.
I have been reading my way steadily through the literature and have been enjoying the journey, and while of some of these books could have been pared down a little and edited, they have exposed me to greater critical thinking. It has also hardened my natural scepticism towards non-verifiable claims, which is a good thing.
I have put a few of the insights from these books to good use in my design process. Principles such as Intrinsic Motivation, Framing, The Anchoring Effect, Planning Fallacy and the mechanics of Choice have been useful. Learning about human behaviour has given me a clearer sense of the pitfalls I frequently face in making decisions and shed light on why users encounter difficulties with a product.
As we learn through these books, we mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking that these theories can solve all of our design problems. When I say I have put ‘a few’ of these insights to good use, I mean just that.
I have seen the principles of ‘Cognitive ease and strain’ being wheeled out like some superficial gloss overlayed on design rationale.
We have seen many of these theories being crowbarred into design and marketing articles called ‘10 ways to make people use your product’ or ‘How to build a successful product with psychology’. Principles such as Cognitive ease and strain are wheeled out like some superficial gloss overlayed on design rationale.
Applying much of these methods is far too simplistic, and when we find a principle that does look relevant, we really need to implement it in a structured approach instead of superficially changing the line-height of text on your website in the hope the principles hold true. These books and research are just guides to making us think differently.
Inevitably, some of these theories are coming under criticism for being outdated (mostly from other factions in psychological and neuroscience) and ineffective sampling sizes in the research. So, it is imperative that we do not take everything we read at face value, even if it is written by a Nobel Prize winner.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Art Of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel H Pink